Title: Hallelujah

Author: Karen T

Rating: R / NC-17

Classification: Angst, drama, CD June/July challenge fic

Disclaimers: All things Alias belong to JJ Abrams and the folks at ABC, Bad Robot, and Touchstone.

Spoilers: Minor for ATY.

Archive: CD, of course. All others, please ask first.

Feedback: Always appreciated. Please send to poohmusings@yahoo.com.

Summary: Vaughn struggles with reality after the death of a loved one.

Notes: There is a bit of smut in here, so please don't read if that sort of thing offends you.

Mucho love and gratitude to Mai and nanda for their stellar beta work, helping me stave off my demons of self-doubt, and putting up with my crap. I honestly don't think I would've survived writing this without those two lovely ladies. And thanks to Hil for, well, being Hil and putting together another great challenge. Additional notes at the end.

***************

Hallelujah

"And love is not a victory march. It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah."

You can remember a time when you used to rate the type of day you'd had by the dreams you dreamt that night. On good days, you dreamt of Her. How her lips would cling to yours, how easily you'd fit into each other, how she'd arch her back and moan your name as she came. On average days, your unconscious would be consumed with thoughts of your stepfather, David. He was the man who'd endured your adolescent scowls and eyerolls for years before eventually earning your respect as you realized that he'd never stop loving your mother even though it was obvious she didn't love him as much as she did your father. And then on the bad days, you'd toss fitfully in your sleep and dream of Alice and the way she had bit her lower lip when you'd told her you 'didn't think it was going to work out.' And her voice, trembling with a hurt she'd been struggling to mask, would echo in your mind until you woke the next morning exhausted: "Whoever she is, Mike, I hope she's worth it. I really do."

[Before]

"Look, it'll work. Why are you being so anal?"

"I'm not—" You rotate your eyes upward without moving your head and shoot Weiss, who's tying an innocent rubber band into a variety of knots, an annoyed look. "I'm not being anal, thank you very much. I'm just being…thorough."

"Tomato, tomahto, dude," he dismisses with a grin. "But, seriously, my plan's perfect. It'll work."

"No, I'm telling you that it won't. There's not enough time for us to get the disks from Sydney, make copies of them, and then get the originals back to her before she reaches her car. The last time we tried to do this, I was practically shitting bricks as I waited for Carlson to finish making those copies. And with LAX's curbside security being as strict as it is these days, she's not going to be able to stall by the car if we're even a half-second late getting her those disks back. It's too risky."

"Well, I'm willing to bet that if you ask Sydney what she thinks of the plan, she'd say it's just fine."

"Of course, she'd say it's fine!" you yelp, several sheets of paper fluttering off your desk as you shove your chair backwards in disgust. "Everything to her these days is fine. You ask if it'd be all right with her to jump off the roof of a 50-story building without a parachute and she'll say, 'Sure. Just tell me where and when.'"

Weiss lifts an eyebrow and expertly snaps his rubber band into your garbage can. "You two still having issues, huh?"

"We're not having issues," you declare, knowing you sound just as convincing as you would have if you'd said you weren't a man. "We're…"

"Having issues," he finishes as he comes over and gives you a sympathetic pat on the back. "Don't take it personally, Mike. We've all noticed she's changed."

You sigh and drop your head so that your chin's almost touching your chest. "She's more focused now. The only things she's concerned about are the missions. Completing them. Doing them well. That's all good, right?"

"Of course." He pats you once more and then walks over to the other side of your desk to begin collecting his papers. "I wouldn't worry about her too much. She knows how to take care of herself."

You're already aware of this and hearing your best friend mention it does anything but assuage you. Sydney can take care of herself, but at what cost? In the three months since you've been back home and back at work as her handler, you've noticed that, among other things, she's repeatedly mentioned quitting school, she brings up Francie's and Will's names much less frequently than she had in the past, and she appears to have trouble looking you in the eyes. You don't view any of these to be positive signs.

"Yeah, you're right," you mutter when you catch Weiss gazing at you quixotically. You know how much Weiss likes to hear he's right and you know there are some within the Agency who are still nervous about how easily you were reinstated to active duty after your rescue from Taipei. (Sydney, her arms and legs flailing away, had acted out the role of your rescuer while Weiss had been the lookout man and getaway driver.) So, in order to reassure everyone you can think of, you tell Weiss he's right and then grab onto his left wrist during his last sweep past your desktop. "Do me a favor, though? Come up with a contingency plan to the disk copy. For just in case."

He yanks his wrist out of your grip and directs an annoyed glare in your direction. But his face relaxes when he sees the smile you're forcing yourself to grin. I'm just being cautious, your eyes tell him, not overly concerned. "Yeah, sure. Better to be safe than sorry, right?"

"Yeah. Thanks. I appreciate it." You recline in your chair and stretch your back as you run your hands through your hair, several vertebrae popping from the change in alignment. "Hey, you wanna catch the Dodgers game tomorrow? My stepdad has season tickets and can't make it, so he offered them to me. You interested?"

"Hell, yeah!" Weiss exclaims from your doorway, his face lighting up. "The Dodgers against the Giants? That game's gonna rock."

You laugh at his excitement and feel the weight of your worry for Sydney momentarily lift from your shoulders. "Cool. Then we're on for the game. And don't forget the sunblock this time."

"God, don't remind me. When are you meeting up with Sydney today?"

"Around 8:00 at the warehouse."

"Okay. I should have these specs finished by this afternoon and then I'll send them on to you for your meet."

"Great, and if you could—"

The jarring ring of your phone propels you to hold up an apologetic finger and turn your back on your friend. "This is Vaughn."

"Michael?"

The female voice is small and so soft that you lean towards your phone as if that'll improve the sound quality. "Hello?" you repeat, a feeling of dread filling your belly.

"Oh, God, Michael, it's…"

Now you recognize the disembodied voice from the other end of the line and you're suddenly transported back to the past, to the only other time you've heard the exact same strangled cry located in the middle of a moan. "Mom?" you barely manage to utter. "What's—"

"It's David. He's…"

As you wait with bated breath for your mother to finish her sentence, you sense Weiss approach you with caution and your desk clock ticks off the passing seconds loudly in your left ear. "Mom, what's happened to David?" you force yourself to ask even though you're sure you already know the answer.

"He's…he's dead, Michael. I can't— He's dead."

*~*

David Prescott Montgomery, devoted husband and stepfather.

You stare at the words you've scrawled on the top line of the pad of paper sitting in your lap and resume chewing on the cap of your pen. You need to finish writing the obituary – you've promised your mother one by morning – but find yourself unable to move past that first sentence.

You'd never done any of the 'fatherly' things with David, such as toss around a baseball in the backyard or go to hockey games together, because you'd felt that to do so would have been disrespectful to your father. But now you wish you hadn't been so stubborn. Maybe we would've found we had a lot in common, you think to yourself. Maybe he liked spicy Indian food, too. Maybe he… Maybe he…

Maybe you wouldn't be sitting in the middle of an abandoned warehouse missing him more than you ever imagined possible if you'd just taken the time to get to know him better.

"Hey." You look up and see Sydney sliding the wire-link partition shut behind her. "Why did we have to move this meeting up?"

"Yeah, I, uh…" It's odd that you can't seem to be able to bring yourself to say the two words that have been thundering in your head since the moment your mother said them. He's dead, he's dead, he's dead. They reverberate still in your mind.

Sydney's staring at you – no, not at you; more like above or to the left or right of you, which has been her modus operandi of late – as you attempt to form the proper words in your mouth. Does she care, you ask yourself, sneaking a heavy-lidded peek in her direction. Is she worried something may have happened to me, or does she simply view this as an unfortunate inconvenience? "My stepfather, he, uh, he passed away this morning," you're finally able to say.

Her face doesn't disclose the slightest trace of emotion as she blinks once and then mutters, "Oh."

'Oh'? You hadn't expected her to shed copious tears, but you'd expected more than an 'oh.' "Yeah, he…he suffered a massive heart attack. Collapsed in the middle of the kitchen." He's dead, he's dead, he's dead. You rub your forehead and will yourself not to break down. "My mom called 9-1-1, but it was too late."

You pause and wait for her to ask how you're doing or how your mother's doing, but she doesn't. She instead presses her lips together into a straight line and directs her gaze to the concrete floor as she scuffs at it with her right foot. You know you shouldn't be surprised by her apparent lack of concern – you have had three months to grow accustomed to it, after all – but you still can't help but feel the sting of it.

"So, um…" you begin to break the awkward silence. "I called you down here because I just wanted to let you know what had happened and that that's why I'm going to be unreachable for awhile. I'm going to take a few days leave to help my mom pull together arrangements and…stuff for the funeral. Weiss is gonna replace me as your handler while I'm gone. He'll go over the countermission for your Lisbon trip tomorrow morning right before your Chaucer class."

"Okay."

And that's that.

You reach down to the side of the chair you're sitting on for your briefcase. David Prescott Montgomery, devoted husband and stepfather. No, you still can't get any further than that. "I guess I'll—"

When you lift your head back up, you instinctively lurch backwards in your seat. Sydney is there. Sydney is close. Sydney is very close. She had moved towards you without your noticing and is now standing directly in front of you, the tips of her polished black boots millimeters from the tips of your brown oxfords. Her left hand is fiddling with the silver band around her right middle finger and when she opens her mouth to speak, you find her voice emoting the type of empathy you'd wanted from her earlier. Unfortunately her eyes remain empty.

"I'm sorry, Vaughn. I can't… How's your mother? Is she all right?"

Clearing your throat several times in succession as you plot your response, you wonder if you'll remember this moment years from now as the time Sydney – the real Sydney – had returned to you. "She was on the verge of hysterics when I arrived at the hospital, but she pulled it together pretty fast. She's a survivor. I mean, it's not like she hasn't lost a husband before."

The minute those words leave your mouth, you immediately want to reel them back in. The last thing you'd wanted to do was remind her of her mother and the time they'd spent together in Taipei.

"Right," she replies stiffly as she becomes fascinated with something on the ceiling.

"Sydney," you murmur with a rueful shake of your head, "I'm sorry. I hadn't meant—"

But before you can finish the sentence, she kisses you. Her lips are on yours, her hands clutch the sides of your face, her urgency flows through you in waves.

Your eyes are still open, wide as saucers, when you allow her tongue access to your mouth. A thousand thoughts come flooding into your mind, foremost how this is something you've yearned for since before Taipei. Fateful Taipei. No longer are you focused on David, his obituary, and how his death has opened up a hole in your life. You now have Sydney – at last – and this is all that matters.

Your hands entangle themselves in her hair as you tilt your chin upwards and draw her down until she's seated in your lap. "Sydney," you manage to moan between gasps for air. Is it really possible this is happening? Scared you're going to awake and find she's only a figment of your imagination, you wrap a possessive arm around her waist and pull her closer.

Her lips are on your chin, her tongue tracing the curve of your jaw. Your lips are on her neck, your tongue dipping closer and closer to the low-cut collar of her shirt. There's no question you're in ecstasy as you feel her hands moving down towards your chest. You envision driving back to your apartment with the fingers of your right hand laced through those of her left hand. You envision laying her out on your bed and seeing her smile warmly up at you as you lower yourself down upon her. You envision the beauty you've seen in your dreams.

But then she's on her knees and the clink of your belt being unbuckled clangs in your ears. And when you hear the subsequent buzz of your zipper, you become paralyzed. Of course you've imagined this moment a million times before, but it was never like this. Never at the warehouse. Never with you in mourning. Never with her brown eyes so vacant.

"Sydney, wait," you're able to pant as she reaches inside your boxers. "Sydney…"

She brushes your hand away with an air of impatience when you attempt to use it to shield your crotch. And that's when you notice her eyes traveling everywhere around the room except to your face. Still.

Soon the warmth of her mouth envelops your partially erect penis and you're forced to squeeze your eyes shut. God, this isn't what you want. You don't want a sympathy fuck and you have no doubt that that is what this is. And as much as the wish to push her away builds up within you, your body betrays your desires.

It doesn't take long for you to grow hard and come, and once you have, she presses her mouth to yours yet again. You can taste yourself on her tongue. And as you see Sydney turn away, her chest heaving, you think you know what's coming next: an apology full of stumbled beginnings and comments like 'it's not you but me.' Maybe there'll be a few tears – in whose eyes, you're not sure – and then the two of you will go your separate ways, never to speak again of what had transpired.

You couldn't have been more wrong.

Without saying a word, she leaves and you're left alone, shrouded in a fog of confusion.

What the hell just happened?

You roll your eyes and shake your head at the asinine question. You know exactly what happened; you just don't know how you could have allowed it to happen.

Rearranging your clothes, you collect your belongings and make your leave, flicking the overhead lights off without a look backwards.

In your car, you drive. To where, you don't care. You just want to drive, to be in control. Except that you're not. Not even now.

As pothole-riddled city streets give way to the smooth, paved lanes of the freeway, you find yourself unable to think of anything but Taipei. You had said your silent good-byes there. You'd come to terms with how you were sure you would die a nobody in a foreign country that didn't care you had a mother who'd endured too much already, a stepfather who thought of you as a son, friends who believed you were funny, and a girl you coveted from afar. But then the girl had appeared and saved you.

She'd listened patiently – ever so patiently – as you'd blathered on and on during the plane ride back to the U.S. You'd spoken of your father and how you sometimes couldn't face visiting his grave. You'd spoken of dreams you hadn't thought about in years, of fears you tried to keep hidden. And she'd listened and smiled and leaned towards you until your foreheads were almost touching. But then you'd arrived in L.A., she'd slipped her hand out of yours as you'd disembarked, and things had changed forever. She changed.

The crunch of gravel beneath your tires catches your attention.

You don't know how long you've been driving or how much distance you've covered. Nor do you recall pulling off the freeway, but you obviously must have because large oaks now surround both sides of your car. You have no idea where you are.

Reaching into the inside pocket of your suit jacket for your cell phone, you ease your car to a stop, feeling ridiculously close to tears. Never in your life – not when your father had died, not when you'd sat next to Sydney in the CIA conference room and learned the truth of who really murdered your father, not even when you were sure you would never leave Taipei alive – have you felt so lost, in every sense of the word.

So you dial the number of the last person who'd made you feel whole.

Two rings and then a quiet "Hello?"

You're immediately struck by how different her voice is from Sydney's. No hesitation, no worry over who may be calling and why. Nothing but a genuine 'Hello, you called me, and I really do want to speak with you.' "Hi, it's...it's me."

There's a pause on the other end and you can almost see her sitting in her high-rise office, legs crossed at the ankles and tucked under her chair, as she squints at her phone, confusion – and maybe a little anger – flitting across her face. "Mike? What are you— Is something wrong?"

"I… David's dead."

"Ohmigod. Are— Where are you, Mike? Are you at your apartment? I'll be right there."

Then there's a click and a dial tone and you learn that it's that easy, that it should be that easy, and that it'll never be that easy with Sydney.

*~*

Seventy minutes later, you slide your car into your designated parking space, 7G, and walk around to the front of your apartment building to see Alice sitting on one of the steps leading up to the main door. It had taken you two gas station stops, a wrong turn, and too much time spent thinking about Sydney before you'd managed to locate the freeway you'd needed to take to get back to the city. But you've made it, supposedly no worse for the wear.

As if sensing your presence, Alice looks up and leaps to her feet when she sees you standing on the sidewalk, wary, disheveled, damaged.

"Oh, Mike," she exhales as she throws her arms around your neck. "I'm so sorry."

She doesn't try to kiss you. She doesn't try to fuck you.

And as the tears you've been holding back all day begin to flow down your cheeks, she only holds you closer.

With the right side of your face pressed again her left shoulder, which is growing increasingly damp by the minute, neither of you says a word. Neither of you has to.

[After]

"You don't say," you mumble as you finish up the game of tic-tac-toe you've been playing against yourself. It's your first day back at work and you're back in the warehouse – something you'd attempted to avoid but hadn't been able to – debriefing Sydney about her mission to Lisbon. It's been a struggle for you to remain civil.

"He also likes to wear a lot of cologne. A lot of cheap cologne to hide from his wife the fact he never quit smoking like he promised her he would."

"That so?"

The obvious disinterest in your voice propels Sydney to shoot you a sidelong glance of displeasure, but she refrains from commenting on it except to say, firmly, "Yeah, it is. Luckily Craik's as vain as he looks and I was able to get him to let me into his office after only a few compliments and a minimal amount of…flirtatious touching." She reaches into her purse and extracts two 3.5" computer disks. "Here are all the files I was able to download from his computer. I gave Sloane the ones Weiss made."

"And Sloane doesn't suspect a thing?" You've moved on to sketching a poor rendition of your dog.

"Nope. He trusts me implicitly these days. I've been a 'stellar operative.' His words, not mine."

"Great. I guess we can officially say the past few days have been productive for both of us then." You raise the nib of your pen and frown when you notice how you've torn through your sheet of paper; apparently you've been doing a lot more than merely sketching your dog. "Your mission was a success and my stepfather's funeral went off without a hitch. Thanks for asking about that, by the way." You fail at keeping your anger and bitterness from creeping into your voice.

"All right, that's it." She hurls the disks at you and you feel them bounce off your chest before landing on the table with a loud clatter. "What's your problem, Vaughn? And don't say nothing because it's obvious you have a problem and it's obvious your problem is with me."

"Okay, fine," you snarl, stretching your legs out under the table. "I want to know why you did what you did the last time we were here. What was that about? Was it— Were you trying— Was that your idea of a romantic…interlude…or something?" A part of you actually hopes she'll say yes.

"What? Like an affair?" she snorts with a laugh before noticing the pain in your eyes. Growing somber, she grits her teeth and states, "I'm not looking for a boyfriend. I've had boyfriends. I even had a fiancé once, if you recall. What I did the last time we were here? That was… You were hurting. I was trying to help."

"By giving me a blowjob?" you cry in disbelief. "Someone important in my life dies and you decide that doing…that is the perfect way to ease my pain?"

She mutters something under her breath and for a moment – just a moment – you believe you may have succeeded in cracking her armor. But then she speaks, her tone once again dull and emotionless. "What else should I have done? What we do – what I do – it doesn't allow for close relationships. You of all people should know that."

"That's bull," you counter. "You used to care, Sydney. You used to give a shit. What the hell happened to you?"

For the first time in months, she turns and stares you straight in the eyes. What you see there – an alarming mixture of misery, fear, contempt, and extreme apathy – causes you to realize you're not entirely sure who's standing in front of you anymore. "I regained my focus," she informs you coldly. "I'm here to take down SD-6, Vaughn. That's it. That's all. If I've done something to make you think—" She falters for a second before recovering her reserve. "If there's someone who needs to reevaluate his priorities, then that someone is you. Why do you still care? Why do you still give a shit?"

The answer's simple. Or so you believe.

"Because I love you."

But she doesn't hear your words. By the time they leave your mouth, she has already stormed out of the building, and maybe that's what you'd wanted – what you've always wanted – for you're aware of how you hesitated longer than was necessary.

The knowledge that your secret still remains a secret doesn't hurt as much as you thought it would. Perhaps that's because you know Alice is waiting for you at your apartment and that there'll be no more dreams of you and Sydney kissing, clinging, wanting.

Because I love you. The confession she never heard you say rings in your ears as you toss your Kings pen into your briefcase. Because I love you… Because I thought I loved you.

*~*

The end.

*~*

Notes, part 2: Lyrics at beginning of story are from Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Jeff Buckley's version of the song is what I had playing on repeat as I wrote this. I love Jeff Buckley and I love this song, so I hope I've done them both justice.

This fic is a fic of firsts for me in many ways (different writing style, different character focus, etc.), so thanks a lot for taking the time to read this. Hope you enjoyed it.